This is not just a memoir.
A tear leaves my eye and splashes against the paper as I write this. And another.
This story is not to pen down the greatest catastrophe in the history of mankind. No. This story is not in the slightest about the cataclysm that came with it. No, this saga is also not about the losses we suffered.
This has to be about the people of India. Impeccable. Unbreakable. Unshakable.
On Friday, March 7, 2014, came what Mayans made prophecies to be the end of the world, what the Vedas predicted as “pralay” and what the Bible refers as “the apocalypse”. But this was unlike anything any scripture ever wrote about.
This wasn’t fires engulfing the earth. This wasn’t the oceans rising to swallow all forms of life. This wasn’t the apocalyptic battle of righteousness between Lucifer and Michael. This was end of the world as our present generation knew it to be. It was 1300 hours IST, when the geomagnetic storm “MAGNA” hit earth full in the face.
This memoir is about the people of India who stood fast in the face of calamity. When the solar flares sent their worst, our people showed their best. From the steel of Howrah Bridge to the coconuts of Kanyakumari… from the apples of Kashmir to oranges of Nagpur… from Bangalore brave to Delhi defiant… our people showed that the greatest force is that of resilience.
This is I, President Pranav Mukherjee, and I bring to you the story of the land I worship. I bring to you the saga of how we took the greatest setback in the history of mankind and fought the bull Magna by its horn. Our families, our people, lost everything they took decades to build. And within hours. Decades of work… centuries of development… years of planning was laid to waste in just one swipe of magnetic flux that came blundering in from space.
I bring to you the story of how we built INDIA 2.0.
For the coming generations, the history of time will always be in three parts. One before the birth of Christ. The other will be A.D. where the students will read about the leaps and bounds the human race made through the renaissance to the industrial revolution… on to the green revolution and finally the greatest of all… the integrated chip revolution. The invasion of the silicon based equipment, their smallness in size and their utility all over made them basic necessities of life and running a civilization. Everything mankind needed to live, everything we humans did, or intended to do was made digital. This would be the era when humans automated every single thing they could with help of programs written on magnetic tapes, and powered by electricity.
The third part of history would begin when the magnetic super-storm magna wiped away every last bit of digital data on 7th march, 2014.
It knocked off power grids sending the whole world into a spiral of darkness. It turned every single bit of digital equipment a piece of wreck. The satellites were thrown off orbit, sending wireless communication into frenzy. There was too much ionic interference for any kind of communication that did not require cables.
This was when banks became mere buildings. Industries became mere ghost towns. Economies collapsed into a lump of pages of history. Everything people ever earned was erased from bank databases. Share-markets became a taboo. The concepts of currency and trade were put to severe test. Any kind of transportation that needed digital or satellite communication, or electrical power to run, was no more. This included air travel, trains, ships and others.
Internet was a sorry thing of the past.
One storm. Sixty three hours of magnetic influx. And the whole world suffered a setback of two centuries.
It was on 27 February, 2014 that I was first informed of the spikes in the solar storm. It was bad, they said. Real bad. So bad that they had never expected anything of the sort. The chairman of ISRO, had shivered with what was about to happen in about eight days.
“Is it going to kill my people?” I had asked.
“No. but it is going to kill everything they need to live” said the chairman as he shifted his weight uneasily on the chair.
That very evening as I stood in the privileged rastrapati bhawan, looking at the wall that donned the portraits of Indian presidents that had held the honorable post before me, I felt small. I needed consultancy. I needed to be told what to do. There was a whole nation to save, if not in its present form, then in its essentiality, so that the healing process could happen as soon as possible. I needed to preserve the legacy of the nation I loved.
I looked at my reflection in my iPhone. I looked around and up-to the surveillance cameras. I glanced at the telephone that stood silently by my study. I stared at the plasma TV that hung on my wall. A fearful gasp escaped my throat.
Their days were numbered.
I looked upon the great Rajendra Prasad. He had built a nation too. The face, the complexion of the human race was about to take a detour. India was a bubbling nation of a billion people. And being the first person of the nation, I had my task cut out.
On first march, I called an emergency meeting of everyone I could think of that would be instrumental in preserving and restoring the glory of the nation. The commanders of the three forces, the governors and chief ministers of all the states, the greatest scientists, the chairperson of all banks, the owners of leading industries and most importantly, the chairpersons of government bodies that dealt with building, installing and maintaining electrical machinery, as well as in the generation and transmission of power.
I still remember when I went on air to address the nation on 3rd March, 2014. I had to disclose the news of what danger was about to impede. I had to make sure the nation was well aware of what was going to hit them in five days. And the most difficult task was to tone down the wave of panic that would grip the nation. I had a plan in action already. It was time to put it to test.
A country was waiting to be addressed. The nation needed to be convinced that though all was at peril, there still was glimmer of hope if we stood together. A billion people needed to be answered with proper reasoning.
I didn’t have a written speech that day. But words that came to me came from my heart. As soon as I went on air, my throat dried up. My voice found little words even as a billion hearts pounded caged inside an Indian chest.
“My fellow citizens… My Indian men… My Indian women… My dear brothers and sisters. Proud people of a proud nation. Brace yourself. Your president speaks to you today while humanity is being threatened. I want you listen to me carefully. This may be the most important broadcast you see in a very, very long time.
The future brings us darkness. A geomagnetic storm threatens our civilization. Our life depends on electrical and electronics devices that have become as essential to us as the very air we breathe in. The storm Magna threatens to tear them all down. Everything that is driven by electricity, will be at peril when earth comes in the path of magna on 7th march. The phone you use, the computer that you operate… the very TV you are watching this broadcast from… might become a piece of electronic scrap within hours.
In times of such great fear, I need you all to stand fast and together. The basic necessities of life will be threatened. Communication and transportation will be blocked. Electrical power will not be available for a long, long time. Life will be difficult, as peace will be tested against chaos.
Do not fear my men. Do not worry my women. After long discussions with greatest minds of the nation, we have decided to bring our civilisation to a suspended animation. Even as we speak, the military is taking over food and water supplies in the country. The army will hence be given charge of every basic necessity. The medical companies are being infiltrated to control hoarding. The jails are being manually locked down. Railways and other forms of fuel based transport will hence be used to deliver only food and water. We are shutting down nuclear power plants and evacuating people from the area even as we prepare for the worst.
I declare a state of urgent emergency in the nation. All rights and democratic procedures are hence suspended. The nation will adhere to the mantra of the “Tridev”: the creator, the preserver and the destroyer.
Our scientists, our engineers and our technical experts will hence assume the role of the creator. Even as our industries shut down, as our power plants will come to close, these people will be responsible for building the era that follows magna.
You and I are the preserver. We need to persevere. We need to adhere to the strict code. We need to keep educating our children, keep our spirits high when darkness looms over us. We need to preserve what we are today so that if and when our race gets back on track, they know their ancestors.
The three armed forces will be the destroyer. The lack of proper safety will give opportunities to anti-social elements. Any uprising, any rebellion that threatens the peace and well-being of the nation and its people in suspended animation will be ruthlessly crushed.
The government is trying to make hard copies of your finances that are with banks. The mechanism of currency will, for the time being, be suspended till a time we are ready to start it again.
India has over a billion hearts that throb together. These souls need food and water and medical supplies to sustain through all this. Stay at your homes, or find a place in the public shelters. Food and water will come to you, for the time being.
The phase two of plan of action will come to you whenever it is possible. The only source of communication are the cables, and as such, public messages will be delivered periodically.
The Indian soil has given birth to greats who will shine bright whenever our history will be up for discussion… men like Bhagat Singh, men like Mahatma Gandhi, and women like Indira Gandhi… these are the names that have paved the way before us, blazing trails and adding new chapters to the list of impossible that we conquered. Our motherland has always been the land of heroes. We take heart through their sagas, and keep ourselves bounded together in times of trouble.
In these dire times, we are all one. There is no rich and no poor. No celebrity and no labourer. We are all humans first.
We hope all these godly stories that we grew up listening are true. We need our gods now more than ever. Do not panic, Indian brave-hearts. These are demanding times, and I appeal you all to stay safe. Stay strong. Talk to your loved ones, hug your dearest, and pray. Seriously… pray….”
And in an act of defiance to the troubles that were waiting jaw open in the future, the nation sung the national anthem one last time together on live TV. “Jana gana mana…” became more than just words of a song. This anthem brought together a nation, as heads turned up to sky, readying for the challenge that was about to be thrown at them.
The super storm, Magna was as bad as we ever predicted. The aurora lit up our night skies for nights at stretch. Our worst fears came true as our power systems were blown off. Poor animals were confused, and nature mercilessly played with their sense of direction. The space organisations lost control of the satellites orbiting the earth. Some went astray. Some suffered orbital decay and rammed into the lithosphere, and leading to loss of lives and property. The world lost its huge database of information that was saved on the internet. The greatest loss suffered was of information stored in digital forms. Perhaps something that will always be needed and never quite fully recovered.
The devastation was more than just the millions and millions losing their source of income. People became depressed with losing a lifetime of their hard earned success, and committing suicides became frequent. The society was challenged with more than just the loss of infrastructure. The earth suffered as its ionosphere went haywire. Bits and parts of the population committed harakiri that lead to dire consequences.
It has been two years since that fateful day. Things have been nasty… and tough… the Indian population has been tested to double edged sword, and though we may have stumbled here and there, and may have lost dear ones along the way… the recovery has been smooth.
It is 31st march, 2016. We have successfully managed to reinstall our grid system and repaired our power plants. A lot remains to be done. A lot is underway. But today when I inaugurate the national centralised power grid, the people of India will see electricity light their homes again.
Today, hope comes back home.
I look up at the sun. And I tell him to look at these people, who fell, picked themselves up, dusted off and kept walking. And though Magna might have bought a whole civilisation to its knees, these iron willed brave hearts never stopped moving. There is a place we need to reach in the future. And we may be crawling today, but we certainly will get there.
Tonight, peace comes to us. We take inspiration with what we have done, and from each other. Magna will less be known by the devastation that came with it but more by the resilience and strength of spirit shown by the Indians. It will take us time to reach where we were once. But tonight, we leave the worst behind us. Tonight we take the first step towards building the future.
We pledge to make tomorrow a better today.
Tonight we begin our journey to redemption. As I inaugurate the remade power grid, I feel for my brothers who couldn’t make it to see this day.
Here is to a nation that stared at the abyss, and did not blink.